It’s hard to get a sense of scale in Place George Pompidou, otherwise known as Piazza Beaubourg, or the parvis of the Pompidou Centre.  In plan its a simple rectangle, roughly 140m long and 45m wide.  That makes the Place about the same size as the parvis of the Hôtel de Ville.  Getting a sense of scale isn’t a problem there.  The city hall is a grand building lined with windows, doors and other familiar features that a city dweller’s brain can readily compare to human scale.  Here it’s not so simple.

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Along rue St Martin the buildings, though modern, follow the traditional pattern of nineteenth century apartment blocks: five straight stories, then an attic storey in the mansard roof.  The Place (or piazza or parvis) slopes down from the street towards the entrance level of the Pompidou Centre. The lines of the external structure of the building suggest six floors inside, so that’s about the same size as the buildings on the street, isn’t it?

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When you start taking photos of this space, the scale comes into focus.  The people in the distance look too small.  The Centre does, in fact have seven lofty, above ground stories, plus a basement level.   It’s a big building!

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The mobile sculture, by Alexander Calder, installed on the Place in 2011, is on a scale to match the building. The holes in the base of the sculpture are down at human level and overall the structure helps link the human and monumental scale.   It’s about the size of a large tree; grand, but somehow friendly.

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For me, of course, that’s one of the things this open space lacks: trees.  There’s a row of rather cramped plane trees up on the edge of rue St Martin but the Place (or piazza) itself is completely hard and mineral.  It’s hard to imagine a building of this size and prestige being built now without at least a nod towards green, living landscape.  When Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano were designing the Pompidou Centre, in the 1970s, it seems good paving was ‘landscape’ enough.